In the most recent year statistics were available, over 20 percent of workplace fatalities occurred at construction sites, as logged by the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s one in five worker fatalities in the construction industry alone. Of those fatalities, 58 percent were from what’s dubbed the “Fatal Four” causes of death in construction: falls, electrocutions, struck by an object and caught in/between. Falls were by far the most frequent cause of death with 349 out of 874 construction fatalities in the reported year. Eliminating these four hazards has the potential to save more than 500 lives each year.
With one OSHA inspector for every 59,000 workers, it’s clear in that the responsibility for workplace safety falls in the laps of employers.
“Making a living shouldn’t have to cost you your life,” says Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “Workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses are preventable. Safe jobs happen because employers make the choice to fulfill their responsibilities and protect their workers.”
In reality, there’s only one way to protect employees from danger, and that’s through prevention. These fatalities and other falls resulting in accidents were preventable. Implementing the three-step system of 1) planning the task, 2) providing the protection and 3) training the employees can save lives.
Planning the Task
The planning stage is when the employer needs to decide how the job will be carried out, which tasks need to be done, and what safety equipment is required. The total cost should take into account all necessary safety equipment.
OSHA maintains strict standards regarding fall prevention by mandating employee fall protection at elevations higher than four feet in general industry, five feet in shipyards, six feet in construction sites and eight feet in longshoring operations. In addition to these fall distances, OSHA requires protection when working over dangerous equipment or machinery, regardless of height.
Planning gets complicated when you consider that during a construction job accidents or injuries can occur during the initial work, during operation and maintenance, after completion and through to renovation and demolition. On many occasions, workers could be near a roof edge — including the transfer of material to and from the roof, accessing equipment or tools from the rooftop or communicating with coworkers at ground level.
Planning for each of these phases includes prevention by design. While dangerous situations cannot be ruled out altogether — particularly in areas like construction — putting up significant barriers and restricting access to high areas is a great place to start. Fall protection systems determine the need for extra equipment and devices to arrest a free fall or restrain an employee and stop the fall altogether.
Providing the Protection
Falls from ladders, scaffolds and roofs are extremely common and highly preventable. But such falls can also occur from other elements, such as floor edges, elevated platforms, ledges, safety cages, skylights, machine rooms and stairways. Fall protection systems need to be set up across all of these areas to avoid all injuries from falls. Floor holes should have covers or railings with accompanying toe-boards. Guard rails and toe-boards should also be added above dangerous machinery. Where necessary, the use of safety harnesses, safety nets, safety cages, modular stairs, stair railings and elevating handrail systems also need to be incorporated. Ladders, scaffolds, parapets, anchor points and alternative safety gear may also be needed, as well as personal fall protection systems.
It could be that additional safety measures such as a vertical cable lifeline or single point anchor are needed to protect a worker from falling from a ladder. Or perhaps an overhead cable needs to be installed for those climbing on machinery or tanker trucks. In other cases, temporary platforms or industrial platforms may be necessary. These backup systems are critical but — unfortunately for many companies — their need often isn’t determined until too late, after an accident has occurred. Prevention needs to be the first line of defense.
While the cost of safety equipment may seem expensive at the outset, OSHA estimates that falls cost companies in excess of $50,000 to $100,000 per incident.
Training the Employees
Employers need to do more than just provide the necessary equipment to their teams. They’re also responsible for training the staff about when and how to use the fall protection equipment. Employees should know which equipment to use in various work scenarios, what the equipment is supposed to do and how to secure and use it properly. They should also have an understanding of how fall protection equipment works in concert with overall fall protection systems at a site. Hazard recognition can save lives and so all team members should have a good understanding of what’s involved in the proper use of safety equipment.
Fall prevention planning minimizes the risk of falling. Meeting or exceeding OSHA fall protection standards and training employees in fall protection and hazard recognition will prevent employees from falling off, into or through dangerous areas.
If you’re unsure how to apply the three steps of fall prevention to your workplace, then it’s important to seek advice from experts who can assess the area and determine the necessary custom solutions to meet your personal needs.